It’s a sad and simple fact that wine hasn’t experienced quite the same boom as craft beer. It’s not that everyone saw Somm and pegged the whole wine-drinking community as one big cult; after all, beer’s complexities are just as obsessively studied as its classy cousin. Wine just happens to have a reputation as the more expensive habit. Why buy a 750ml bottle of Pinot when you can get six 330ml Pilsners for half the price?
The reality is that there’s plenty of wine out there that matches the value of a six pack. The trick to finding them? Avoiding name brands. Wine is a commodity, like sneakers and cars; a pair of Air Jordans would cost fractionally what it does if not for branding and marketing, and Yellowtail would be as cheap as Bud if not for the cost of that adspace in GQ. The game is name recognition. Likewise, when you pay extra for wine from a region like Chianti or Bordeaux, you’re not paying for advanced aging techniques or premium grapes — you’re paying for a bloated rent check. Lesser-known regions are using lesser-known indigenous grapes to produce unique, top-quality wines that are cheaper not because their quality is lacking, but because their vintners focus on what really matters. With help from Lauren Friel, Wine Director at Oleana in Cambridge, MA, and Matthew Conway, sommelier at Restaurant Marc Forgione, we found 10 great bottles from vintners who disregard the high shelf; at under $20, why not pair tonight’s burger with a bottle of red?
Additional reporting by Lauren Friel.
2011 Thymiopoulos “Young Vines”
Naoussa, Greece: Greece is more known for its white wines, but the mountainous northern region has been producing more and more exciting, characteristic reds. The Thymiopoulos Young Vines is fresh, juicy and vibrant. When chilled, it’s great for a day at the beach, or paired with grilled fish.
2011 Catherine & Pierre Breton “Trinch!” Bourgueil
Loire Valley, France: “Trinch!” is sort of like the Bourgueil “Cheers!” for the sound two glasses make when toasting together. This beautiful Cabernet Franc is full of peppery, floral aromatics and stony minerality — perfect with all manner of vegetables, even those tricky artichokes and asparagus.
2011 Filipa Pato Tinto
Bairrada, Portugal: Portuguese wine is like the hot new kid at school in the wine world right now; we’re all sort of beside ourselves hoping to get to know it better. This is a blend of Baga and Bical, and it’s a wild, unctuous expression that cries out for the game of braised meats — say, goat stew.
2012 Le Piane “La Maggiorina”
Boca, Italy: Boca is one of Italy’s most interesting regions right now; it’s steadily risen up after world war, economic collapse, and abandonment, and the unique Alpine climate produces intensely vibrant wines. Le Piane’s “Maggiorina” boasts an incredible balance of rusticity and elegance, and a deep core of ripe fruit supported by bramble and smoke, all tied up in a package of acidity and fine tannin. Drink this with everything from pizza to pork chops.
2010 D’Angelo, Aglianico del Vulture
Basilicata, Italy: A properly handled Aglianico like this one clings to its terroir in the glass and unleashes it on your palate. If you’d like this one described as a picture, think of an Italian countryside at dusk in autumn, with hints of roasted black fruits, licorice and herbs. With bold tannins and high acidity, it’s perfect for steak night.
Ktima Voyatzi Tsapournakos
Velvendo, Greece: Another Greek red, this time from the region of Velvendo, home of the indigenous tsapournakos grape. Voyatzi is a veteran vintner from Butari, a big-time vineyard; Matthew Conway, sommelier at Restaurant Marc Forgione, refers to him as “the Robert Mondavi of Greece”. Voyatzi crafts his namesake wines on his family’s estate on Lake Polyphytos; the tsapournakos sports a lively, acidic flavor.
2010 Olga Raffault Chinon
Loire Valley, France: The Loire Valley is no secret to wine fans, but it’s worth noting for newbies outside of the know: the region is home to a wide variety of reds that don’t need to age for long before they’re ready to drink. According to Conway, this allows Loire vineyards to produce more wine and keep prices low at no cost to quality; the Olga Raffault Chinon is a fine example, consistently rich and sweet with any degree of aging.
2012 Vinatigo Joven Tinto
Tenerif, Canary Islands, Spain: Joven, meaning “young”, describes this 2013 wine’s short aging time, but it’s not far off from describing its character: a fun, medium-bodied wine, the Vinatigo is dark, aromatic and sweet. It uses Listan Negro grapes, which are mainly found on Tenerif, one of the Canary Islands.
2010 Produttori di Carema Carema Classico Nebbiolo
Piemonte, Italy: Easily the most obscure wine on this list, this Carema is nonetheless affordable. It takes its name from an obscure comune in Piemont, a vineyard-ready region in Northern Italy; the wine itself is earthy, floral and smoky, and a good alternative to commoner Italian Barolo wines.
Manifesto Cabernet Sauvignon
Suisun Valley, California: The one American wine on this list is, of course, the only one that comes from a vineyard that advertises its “sustainably farmed grapes” loud and proud. At any rate, this cabernet sauv carries hints of a wide spate of fruits with a smoky finish. Pair with pizza to keep it all American.